Rask gives Bruins a victory to savor
So smooth. So calm. So poised.
Tuukka Rask, given his first NHL action of 2008-09 yesterday, responded with a 35-save jewel to backstop the Bruins to a 1-0 victory over the Rangers before 17,565 at TD Banknorth Garden.
Rask's reward: a seat on the bench today at the Bell Centre against the Canadiens and a trip on 95 South to Providence when Manny Fernandez (back) returns to full health, most likely within days.
The message is clear: The Bruins will not rush the 21-year-old Rask, especially with two battle-tested puckstoppers in Fernandez and Tim Thomas already in place. For proof of how fragile young goalies can be, check the recent stat line of one Carey Price (17 goals allowed in his last four starts), the 21-year-old once anointed to be the next Ken Dry den in Montreal.
"With Tuukka, I think it's only something he can get with time, and that's a little bit of experience," said coach Claude Julien. "Goaltenders' maturity is a huge thing that they need to have to play at this level. It's called mental toughness. It's called consistency, game in and game out. Those are kinds of things you get from being put in those situations, and that's what's been happening with him in Providence.
"If he can be as consistent as possible, I think that's the big task for him right now and not have those highs or lows or those games where you give a few soft goals.
"That's a part of his game that, to be honest with you, still happens at times in Providence. That's what maturity is all about. We've got to give him time to develop that part of his game. I've always thought that a goaltender's biggest challenge is that. It's not so much technical but the ability to sustain your game night in and night out."
As for the future? Yesterday, Rask proved how starry that might be.
Rask, who capped his shutout with an arm pump, tucked away the puck as a keepsake for a safe journey back to his native Finland after winning the staredown with Swedish star Henrik Lundqvist.
Rask, demonstrating the chest-up technique, powerful edgework, and quiet style that make him Boston's top prospect, didn't give the offensively challenged Rangers (the NHL's 27th-ranked attack) much net to shoot at in his first career blanking.
In the third period, Rask faced his most dangerous sequence when he stopped center Scott Gomez, then saw the rebound pop up for Nikolai Zherdev. But Dennis Wideman swung down his stick and got a piece of Zherdev's equipment, forcing the winger to shoot over the open net.
"Most of the time, rebound control was pretty good and I saw the puck really well. Guys helped me out with that," said Rask, who was informed of the start Friday. "It was a good game."
The Bruins required perfection from Rask on a day when Lundqvist (26 saves) was just as good.
Boston's lone goal came in the final minute of the second period after the most unassuming of plays: a Milan Lucic dump-in from the left point that Marc Savard couldn't handle.
As the puck rimmed around the wall, Lucic recognized that nobody was able to track it down, so he charged off the left point and sprinted after the puck. Nigel Dawes tried to settle the puck, but the New York winger could sense Lucic barreling toward him. Lucic belted Dawes and the puck continued to drift up the wall.
"I saw the puck coming around slowly," said Wideman. "I was thinking about pinching in - doing what Looch did and pinching in. But I looked at the clock and saw there was under a minute left [in the period] in a tie game. I thought, 'Why push it right now?' So I started to back off. But Looch did a great job coming all the way across and getting a body on him. That puck was just sitting there, so I put on the brakes and walked back into it."
At the same time, Savard was starting to skate back. But when he saw Lucic punish Dawes, Savard halted in front of the net, putting himself in position to tip a rising Wideman blast down past Lundqvist with 22.2 seconds remaining. Video replay confirmed that Savard's stick was not above the crossbar.
"It was such a tough goal," said Lundqvist. "You have to reach for the puck and it deflected straight down. It is hard to be in two places at the same time.
"I thought it was a high stick, but then I saw the replay and it didn't look that high. It was a pretty good tip. It's just tough when you let one in that late."